What the Hell Happened to Eddie Murphy?

By this point in the “What the Hell Happened?” series, a pattern has developed.  The career usually begins with TV roles or modeling gigs.  Then a big break, super stardom and a stint on the A-list.

Sometimes the celebrity rides on the top of the a-list for years.  Other times, they come crashing down relatively quickly.  Eventually, their time in the spotlight ends.  Sometimes they flame out in a spectacularly public fashion.  Other times, they just walk away.

Eddie Murphy’s story breaks from the formula.  Sure, there is a rise and fall.  But in Murphy’s case, there’s not just one.

Murphy rose to superstardom, slipped into irrelevance, reinvented himself as a family friendly leading man, had a scandal, dropped into obscurity, and then threatened to stage a come back multiple times without ever actually coming back.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to tackle Murphy as soon as possible.  He was dangerously close to a come back as recently as a few months ago.  Word of mouth on Tower Heights was that it would reignite Murphy’s career.  His friend, Tower Heights director Bret Ratner, hired him to host the Academy Awards.  Murphy was poised for a comeback.

Then Tower Heights disappointed at the box office, Ratner quit the Academy Awards show in scandal and Murphy quietly excused himself.  The come back was cancelled.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning of the story.

Murphy started performing as a stand-up comedian as a teenager.  At 17, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

In the early 80s, SNL was in its first real slump.  It was actually facing the possibility of cancellation.  Murphy and co-star Joe Piscopo were the sole stand-outs of the cast and arguably saved the show.

While Murphy was still on SNL, he made his feature film debut in 1982′s 48 Hours.

I don’t think the impact of 48 Hours can be over-stated.  It wasn’t just a smash hit.  It practically invented a genre that would dominate the film landscape for the next decade.  The buddy cop movie began with Nolte and Murphy in 48 Hours.

Murphy was already a star on TV.  But 48 Hours made him a movie star.  The Golden Globes named Murphy the New Star of the Year.

murphy trading places

The following year, Murphy teamed with SNL alumn Dan Aykroyd in Trading PlacesTrading Places was directed by John Landis who would work with Murphy two more times.  The rich man/poor man comedy was an even greater hit than 48 Hours.

Murphy was 2 for 2 in Hollywood and was still a star on TV.  He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Trading Places.  Plus he had a hit stand-up comedy special in Eddie Murphy: Delirious that same year.

Ghostbusters was originally written with Eddie Murphy and John Belushi in mind.

Murphy’s career was hot.  He wasn’t just a rising star.  He was shooting straight to the top.  Following Trading Places, Dan Aykroyd actually wrote a part in Ghostbusters specifically for Murphy.  Murphy was unable to work it into his schedule due to his commitment to Beverly Hills Cop, so the part went to Ernie Hudson instead.

In 1984, Murphy made his first misstep.  He appeared in the notorious turkey, Best Defense.

Test screenings for the Dudley Moore comedy were so horrible that the studio created Murphy’s part after the fact.  The movie was then marketed as an Eddie Murphy movie despite the fact his role is a glorified cameo.  He’s even credited as a “strategic guest star”.

When he hosted SNL later that year, Murphy joked about the failure of Best Defense and how he thought it might have killed his movie career.  He jokingly admitted to making Best Defense for the money.


Later that year, Murphy rebounded with Beverly Hills Cop.

Beverly Hills Cop was the movie that made Murphy a star.  Up until this point, Murphy was a rising star.  But Beverly Hills Cop cemented his A-list status with authority.  It also nabbed him another Golden Globe nomination.

Before Murphy signed on to star in Beverly Hills Cop, Sylvester Stallone was attached to the project.  Stallone famously walked off Beverly Hills Cop because he was uncomfortable the comedy.

When Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop was a huge action-comedy hit, Stallone responded with his version of the movie.

Stallone’s Cobra was only unintentionally funny.  It highlighted the changing tides as Murphy eclipsed Stallone on the A-list.

How big was Murphy after Beverly Hills Cop?  Big enough that he was allowed to start a recording career.  Big enough that Rick James produced his record.  And big enough that his single, Party All the Time, was actually a hit in spite of sounding like this:

Party All the Time has to embrass Murphy today.  It qualifies him for one-hit wonder status.  But it also speaks to just how big of a star he was at the time.  They don’t let you make a vanity record unless you’re a superstar.

Next: Coming to America and Sequels

Posted on January 31, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 159 Comments.

  1. Looks like the new beverly hills cop film is back on track…


  2. Eddie Murphys Career Highs and Lows:

    In the 1980s, there was simply no stopping Eddie Murphy. As the star of Beverley Hills Cop, his fame seemed to know no bounds. He went on to star in two sequels which, although perhaps not quite so popular, still did phenomenally well at the box office. He also went on to star in other hit films such as Golden Child and Coming to America.

    Skipping forward to the end of the 1990s, however, his star began to fade. He still continued to work regularly, but the films simply didn’t command the same audiences as before. His typical slapstick style of comedy was neither as fresh as before, nor was it as original. He had the occasional return to form, such as his vocal performance as the donkey in Shrek, but that wasn’t enough. There were plenty of new faces waiting in the wings and they were attracting a new generation of fans who didn’t really rate Murphy.

    Personal problems also made people see him in a different light. He divorced from wife Nicole in 2006 and shortly afterwards showed a rather unpleasant side to his personality following a relationship with former Spice Girl Mel B. When she discovered she was pregnant, Murphy denied outright that he was the father and refused to pay for child support, until Mel B was forced to organised a paternity test to prove her daughter was his. The test proved that he was, after all, the father.

    Now in 2012, it is perhaps no surprise that Murphy has just been named as the most overpaid actor in Hollywood by Forbes magazine. According to their figures, for every dollar that Murphy made in the box office, he only made back $2.30. However, compared with Drew Barrymore, who made back just 40 cents for every dollar she earned in 2011, Murphy’s figure is actually quite respectable. Barrymore apparently doesn’t qualify for this year’s list because she hasn’t had starring roles in three ‘wide-released films’ over the last three years, probably due to her family commitments.

    There are a few other big names just behind Murphy in the Forbes list. At number two was Katherine Heigl, who made back $3.40 for every dollar she earns, based on a couple of recent films that didn’t really register on the box office radar. Reese Witherspoon is surprisingly at number three, having made back just $3.90. Like Barrymore, she has recently had a baby and may well be back in the financial limelight in due course.

    When it comes to Eddie Murphy, however, the future doesn’t look too bright. 2011’s Tower Heist was supposed to be his return to the big-time, but although critically-acclaimed, it didn’t do that well at the box office. Something special will need to be in the pipeline to turn his career around.

    • The 7 Most Overpaid Actors:

      #4 Eddie Murphy

      Eddie Murphy has evolved his career brilliantly. After bursting into the national spotlight during his short-lived SNL career, Eddie quickly became the go-to black comedian of the 80′s. As he got older, he began focusing on family comedies with films like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. Again, like a normal-sized black Napoleon, Eddie completely conquered the landscape in front of him.

      However, as Eddie’s fan-base gets older, they don’t recognize their beloved Eddie Murphy anymore. Recent films like Meet Dave and Imagine That (which seemed like a remake of Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories, which came out only a year earlier) have been major box office disappointments. The Adventures of Pluto Nash is the biggest summer blockbuster flop of all-time. On average for every $1 Eddie has earned, his movies brought in $4.43 so like Billy Bob, Murphy earns nearly a quarter of his films’ total gross earnings.

  3. Showtime (2002):

    I watched this film recently and I have to say it wasn’t bad at all. Good under-appreciated comedy with Eddie Murphy and Robert DeNiro.

  4. 10 Huge Hollywood Actors We All Loved (But Now Hate):

    7. Eddie Murphy

    We Love You Moment: Beverley Hills Cop (1984)

    It’s seems like a long time since Eddie Murphy was the most popular star and biggest box office attraction on the planet but that’s exactly what he was in the eighties. After making his film debut with 48 Hrs. a revelation was born and he followed that with the excellent Trading Places and then the film that would make him an international star; Beverley Hills Cop.

    By the time Another 48 Hrs. (1990) hit cinemas he had hit after hit with a (good) sequel to Beverley Hills Cop, The Golden Child, Coming To America and RAW, the highest grossing stand-up film ever released at the time. His natural charisma, talent and incredibly foul yet funny mouth made him the biggest and most loved star on the planet.

    We Want A Divorce Moment: Beverley Hills Cop III (1994)

    No actor has suffered such an incredible drop off in quality like Edward Reagan Murphy and it all started with the castration of his most famous character in Beverley Hills Cop III. The success of Shrek and Nutty Professor are merely blips on an otherwise downward trajectory that features such abominations to entertainment as Vampire In Brooklyn, Life, Holy Man, Showtime, Pluto Nash, I-Spy, The Haunted Mansion. Norbit, Meet Dave and Imagine That.

    The worst part? A young Eddie Murphy would be ashamed of his older self. Try watching the brilliant RAW now and not cringing when he mocks Bill Cosby pleading with him not to use cuss words anymore. Often imitated but never bettered when it came to cussing, it’s a real shame his balls dropped off when he got old. Back in the day he could have always counted on the female vote too but since challenging the paternity of Mel B’s child he’s lost that as well. D’oh.

    Chances Of Getting Back Together: Regretfully none. The shine has well and truly come off this former golden child.

  5. Since now directors have started to get their own WTHHT articles, I wonder if Eddie Murphy’s “Trading Places”, “Coming to America”, and “Beverly Hills Cop III” director John Landis deserves one? The irony regarding Landis is the whole tragedy involving Vic Marrow’s death during the making of “The Twilight Zone” movie didn’t seem to completely ruin Landis’ career as an A-list director, but once he entered the ’90s w/ flicks like BHC3″ and “Blues Brothers 2000″, that really did him in.


    • And since we’re on the subject of Eddie Murphy’s old directors, I also wouldn’t mind seeing Eddie’s “Beverly Hills Cop” (the first one) director Martin Brest get a WTHHT. It seems like the horrible response that “Gigli” received caused Brest to pretty much give up film-making all together.

  6. Has Any Comedic Actor Ever Come Close to 1980s Eddie Murphy?


    From 1982 to 1989, Eddie Murphy starred in 9 films. Three of these films (Best Defense, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Harlem Nights) are either completely forgettable, terribly mediocre, or both. However, let’s take a look at his other six films:

    1) 48 Hours: Borderline classic comedy.

    2) Trading Places: BIG TIME classic comedy.

    3) Beverly Hills Cop: BIG TIME classic comedy.

    4) The Golden Child: Originally a flop, but now a cult classic.

    5) Eddie Murphy Raw: One of the greatest stand-up films ever made.

    6) Coming To America: BIG TIME classic comedy.

    Not only have most of these films stood the test of time, but I am now hard pressed to think of any other comedian who had an equally stellar streak in their career. Only three other comedians come to mind that one could make an argument for: Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and Will Ferrell.

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